Sunday 3 July 2016

Back to school

I was going to leave this post until later in the year, but then I decided that I couldn't wait.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time (thank you!) will know that I'm a widow and that my husband Adrian, aka Mr Tulip, died of Motor Neurone Disease in March 2014.

For much of the 20-plus years that we were together we were work colleagues as well as partners and best friends, so we spent a lot of time in each other's company. As a result there's been a big, Mr Tulip-shaped, hole in pretty much everything I've done for the last couple of years.

Recently I decided that I wanted to take on something new, something which I wouldn't have done if Adrian were still alive*. The problem was that I had no idea what that might be. Then a couple of things happened at once.

First I came across this article in the Guardian about North Ronaldsay, the northernmost of the Orkney Islands. I went there years ago when I was in Orkney researching my undergraduate dissertation (on nineteenth century Orcadian agriculture, if you must know), and reading the article reminded me just how much I'd enjoyed completing that dissertation; formulating a theory, doing all the research, and then writing it up.

A few days later Professor Deborah Wynne, who organizes the Textile Study Days run by the University of Chester, sent out an email about a new programme of postgraduate study which was starting in the autumn and which could be geared towards textile-related studies. Intrigued, I sent off for more details.

So to cut a long story short, 30 years after I got my degree I'm going back to being a (part-time) student! In October I will be starting a Masters by Research in Gender Studies. The main part of an MRes is a 28,000-word dissertation, and while I haven't firmed up the details yet, I know that this will be on some aspect of women and home dressmaking.

I must admit that even though the offer letter is pinned on the notice board in my workroom, I'm still a bit stunned to find myself in this position. I had never remotely considered going back to studying. But when the opportunity came along, it just seemed ideal. The course is designed to be accessible to both people who are working and those returning to academia after a break, so suits me perfectly. Plus, I've always had an interest in dress history (for example, while on a university field trip in the 1980s and supposed to be doing something else entirely, I spotted Nancy Bradfield's Historical Costumes of England in a bookshop window, and snuck off to buy it!), and this finally gives me a chance to do something with it - and read some of those books properly.

The result of over 30 years of 'research'

When I was telling my friend C about it she said, "You sound really excited", and that's not something any of my friends have been able to say about me for three years. Roll on October!

* - Just to be absolutely clear, if Adrian were still alive and I had wanted to do this, he wouldn't have objected in the slightest. He was always massively supportive of everything I did. But I wouldn’t have felt comfortable taking on something which will use up so much of my time; it wouldn’t have felt fair on him. But I hope that he would be proud of what I'm doing now.


  1. Congratulations! That's awesome! I have been reading your blog for several years and know how much you miss Mr T. It is great that you have a PhD topic that excites you so much, I look forward to hearing about it. Best wishes!

  2. Oh that sounds fantastic, congratulations! I'd love to go back and study history (I stupidly gave it up at GCSE level!) but just don't have the time. Your course sounds like something you can really get your teeth into and you never know where it might lead you. I'm so very sorry you lost your husband but I'm quite sure he would be very proud of you taking on a new and exciting challenge. xx

  3. This sounds like such an exciting course and research I'm sure you'll love learning about. A 28,000 dissertation sounds massive though, so good for you that you're going to give it a go! I'm glad you've found something that is exciting you for the first time in a while.
    I'm so incredibly sorry about your husband, that is absolutely heartbreaking and must have been so horrible seeing him go through that and see him suffer. You're one strong lady! I've been with my man for 5 1/2 years since we were 17 and he is my best friend too and I can't imagine carrying on without him, so it's amazing how you are after being with him for 20 years, I'm so sorry you've had to go through that and now have that hole there. You must miss him dearly, so I'm so glad that you've found something you love to do, I'm sure Mr Tulip would be so excited for you. XxxX

    1. Thank you! I've started some of my course reading now, and while it's hard work after so long away from studying, I'm really enjoying it!